New Research Shows Hope for Dyslexic or Poor ReadersTwo recent studies using brain imaging (MRI) found that the brains of children who were having trouble reading actually changed and became like the brains of normal readers in the course of intensive remedial training. Children with reading problems can be helped - most dyslexia does not have to be a lifelong problem. One of the studies focused specifically on how children process the sounds of oral language, as this is one of the causes of reading difficulties. The study did not specifically look at reading aloud, but it seems very likely that more practice at listening will help children who have these difficulties. (Note that these children did not have problems with hearing, but with understanding or processing what they heard.) These articles are available at http://www.sciencedaily.com - "Learn to Read Through Sound" dated May 1, 2008, and "Remedial Instruction ReWires Dyslexic Brains" dated August 7, 2008.
A Visitor for Bear, by Becker, illustrated by Denton - My brother told me his two year old likes this book, which has perfect pictures to go with the story of a grumpy, reclusive bear and the irrepressible mouse who keeps ignoring the "no visitors" sign, and all the bear's objections, till the bear finally discovers that he really does enjoy company, after all. Funny & sweet, with just the right amount of repetition, this is a new book you won't mind reading over and over again. Age two and up.
Millions of Cats, by Gag - first published in 1928, this is one of the oldest of my favorites. It is a tall tale of sorts, about a man who sets out to get his lonely wife a cat, and ends up bringing home... "hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats" because he can't decide which one is prettiest. When he asks the cats to choose which one is prettiest, a fight ensues, and when the old man and his wife venture back outside, they find only one frightened kitten hiding - which, of course, turns out to be the perfect cat for them. It has simple, black and white illustrations. Besides just being a clever story, any child who grows up reciting the repeated lines about how many cats there are will never have trouble remembering the order of the place values in numbers! Age two and up.
Mrs. Crump's Cat, by Smith, illustrated by Roberts - another fairly new book, 2006, with a theme similar to A Visitor for Bear. Color pictures are somewhat stylized, but the expressions of the characters are priceless. Irritable Mrs. Crump has no use for cats, and finds them sneaky, finicky, and troublesome... but somehow she lets the wet stray cat on her doorstep in one evening. Ages three and up.
The Boy Who Drew Cats, by Levine, illustrated by Clement - This story is based on a rather spooky Japanese folk tale, and the pictures are beautiful, perfect for the story. Kenji is a boy who loves to draw, and he is forced to leave his monastery after he is discovered drawing instead of working. Lost, he ends up spending the night in an old temple that has been abandoned because the King of Rats has taken it. Kenji fills some blank screens with drawings of cats, and wakes in the morning to find his cats have magically defeated the King of Rats, the temple safe again, and the villagers grateful. Ages four and up.
Wendell, by Nones - Wendell the cat keeps getting into trouble because none of the humans in the house can see the little gremlins who do things like knocking a fork off the table, moving Dad's reading glasses, or moving the TV antenna. He gets put outside till a mouse shows up - and then gets to chase both the mouse and all the gremlins out of the house. Ages four and up.
Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle, illustrated by Jeffers - The text of this book is a translation of Chief Seattle's famous speech about loving the land, and the pictures are Susan Jeffer's softly colored illustrations. This may be her most beautiful book, and the words are suitable for bedtime reading or to spur a discussion about conservation. Ages three and up.
The Sons of the Dragon King, by Young - based on a Chinese legend, this is a story about how each of the very different nine sons of the Dragon King first gets into trouble, and then finds a way to use his talent for the good of the people. The illustrations are a nice mix of traditional-looking and more modern styles, but all with a strong Chinese flavor. Ages four and up.
For Elementary-School Age and Above:
The Book of Bad Ideas, by Huliska-Beith - This is a picture book, and not terribly long, but pre-schoolers might miss most of the humor. The illustrations are very brightly-colored, and text is written in an unusual, sort of hand-written-looking font. It starts out with "Bad Idea #134: Rollerblading with your dog even though he flunked out of obedience school" and a picture of the dog in hot pursuit of a cat and towing a girl on rollerblades, and it goes on from there with lots more bad ideas and their amusing results. Kindergarten or first grade and up. (A fun writing project might be to try to create more "bad ideas".)
Catwings, by Leguin - a chapter book with quite a few pictures about a litter of kittens who are born with wings, and so don't fit in with either cats or birds. There are three sequels. These make good books for kids who are "in between" picture books and longer books, and Leguin's writing is well-crafted. Read aloud to first graders and up.
The Cat Who Went to Heaven, by Coatsworth - first published in 1930, this re-telling of a Japanese folk tale is still a good story about being rewarded for compassion. There are at least two different illustrated versions, both of which are very nice. Like The Boy Who Drew Cats, this is also a story about an artist, but they are quite different. Read to first or second graders and up.
It's Like This, Cat, by Neville - a quiet kind of story, but very well-written, about a teenage boy growing up in New York City with, yes, a cat for a pet. This book is a Newbery winner, and the kind of book your child might not pick on his/her own, but is likely to enjoy (and re-read later) if you read it aloud. For listeners fourth grade or above.
Tailchaser's Song by Williams and The Wild Road by King - both fantasy with cats as the main characters, and a cut above many YA fantasies in the quality of the writing. These are also both quite long, and they might be candidates for you reading the first quarter, and then letting kids finish on their own - but you might enjoy the story enough that you won't want to stop. Read to seventh graders and up.
Rose Daughter by McKinley - Robin McKinley's SECOND novelization of "Beauty and the Beast", this one is quite different from the first (Beauty). I wouldn't want to have to choose between them - both are wonderful - but this one is a little more complex and nuanced, requiring a little more mature reader (no, there isn't any "inappropriate" content, but it is just not quite as easy to follow). Read to sixth or seventh graders and up.
The Book Thief by Zusak - a Prinz Award winner. You may think you have read enough books set in WW II Germany, but make room on your shelf for this one. The first few pages are a little difficult, but persevere. The main character, Liesel, is a foster child who starts out the story at eight years old, not yet able to read, but having a book she stole. Some readers might find it distressing that characters (including the foster mother) refer to each other with German terms most of us would regard as vulgar, but try to get past that. This is an important book, one that deals with many issues of love, loyalty, friendship, courage, integrity, compassion - and, yes, the importance of reading, words, and books. It is never preachy, and never predictable, but it shows ordinary people making extraordinary choices. Read it to fifth or sixth graders and above.